Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Its hands are clean


Has the smearing of Craig Murray, formerly the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan, been successful? Murray famously went off-message by accusing the British government of complicity in torture, but the bare bones in Murray's claims have never been denied by the Government. In time-honoured fashion, though, the establishment closed ranks, whispering that he had lost the plot. (His cause was not helped by the fact that he had an affair with a stripper, admits to enjoying a drink and doesn't put his career above all else.)

Last week, giving evidence to the Joint Human Rights Committee, he accused Jack Straw and Tony Blair of changing UK policy on the admission of intelligence gained by torture. He said the UK's policy about evidence from torture had changed post 9/11. When he raised it with the Foreign Office he says he was told "This is the policy... we will accept intelligence that has come from torture as long as we don't do the torture ourselves". So when Straw and David Miliband say we don't "condone" (rather than "gratefully receive the results of") torture, they choose their words carefully. Curious that Murray's remarks were barely noticed in the press.

Best-known for his screenplays of Gladiator and Shadowlands, William Nicholson has found himself at the centre of a small drama with his new novel, The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life. When friend and neighbouring writer Elisa Segrave read a proof, she was appalled by a passage in which a small white dog called Perry is beaten to death by a farmer for chasing sheep. Segrave, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, is known in literary circles for her small white dog called Perry, named after friend Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. "Perry doesn't chase sheep. He should sue for slander," said Sir Peregrine when told. But Nicholson is contrite: "I didn't want to kill either Perry," he tells me, "My wife goes walking with Elisa and somewhere in the midst of time the name must have stuck in my brain."

The Hay Festival has enough internal politics without professionals from Westminster wading in. At a reception to launch the literary shin-dig on the House of Commons terrace last week, Hazel Blears revealed she is launching a class war on culture by going to Hay this year. "I want the arts to be for everyone," she told me. "Lowry painted everyday people; that's what the arts should be about." While she might be storming the bookish Bastille during the day, she'll be well looked after at night. She's been invited to stay with Adam Boulton in a grand manor house rented by Sky. Vive la révolution!

He is hailed as one of the greatest travel writers of the 20th century, but Patrick Leigh Fermor is not up to much, says Sebastian Faulks. The bestselling author of Birdsong tells me that despite several attempts he has never been able to get through Leigh Fermor's seminal book, A Time of Gifts, saying "He's a bit of an old windbag isn't he?" Faulks was on garrulous form at the Hatchards' authors party last week, turning his sights on Joan Bakewell too. "Why's she gone and written a novel? Everyone thinks they can do one now." Next up, Debo Devonshire: "Why has she written another book? They can't be short of money can they?" Watch out!

Energetic PR consultant Anne Jenkin is feared and revered by top Tories, including Dave and Boris. But the wife of former Tory vice-chairman Bernard was reduced to a giggling schoolgirl when she ran into Today presenter Ed Stourton at the launch party of Nicholas Coleridge's novel Deadly Sins last week. Hurling herself at Stourton, she asked his wife to take a picture of them both. "My mother doesn't believe I know people like you," she explained. "We are great fans and I have to provide evidence that I met you."

Bibulous ex-Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens makes his living in the US and is so adored over there they want him to be honoured. Forbes magazine is calling for him to be knighted, praising his "erudition, intellectual courage, bloody-minded wit and near sacramental love of the grape". As one wit quips, "They hold most Buckingham Palace investitures before lunch so a knighthood should not be totally out of the question."

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